Monday, June 29, 2009

The Politics of Attitude

You don't like it - you frown on it. Whenever it is mentioned, you have a visceral distaste. Many would say that you're unnecessarily critical of something that almost everyone finds useful, and that many people find essential. In fact, if it didn't exist, a lot of us wouldn't be here.

What am I talking about?



The answer is: both.

It seems that a lot of people have a very strong opposition to the idea of guns, or to the idea of sex, and tend to overlook situations where each could play a positive influence. There are a lot of people who take extreme positions against guns and against sex in both parties. It's time that we had a realistic, responsible, mature attitude about these things: as a country, we should realize that there are proper and safe ways to use and enjoy both items I have mentioned.

However, some folks are just doggedly determined to oppose both wherever they appear.

We don't need to abhor sex, or guns: we don't need to control them, we need to promote safe behaviors and encourage learning so that when people use these things, they'll know what they're doing.

For those who are reticent to approve of sex education: would you leave a loaded gun lying around your house, especially if you had children who knew nothing about firearms?

Of course not - that would be negligent.

Some people don't like guns - some people don't like sex very much, either. Fine. That's your personal preference, and you have the right as an American to have that preference. But don't impose your morality on me just because you are disgusted by other citizens' affinity for either quantity.

Our guiding principle should be that as long as the public safety and welfare is not infringed, individual liberty should be protected. That should be something to which everyone can consent.

Monday, June 15, 2009

We Aren't Special

As members of humanity, as citizens of this planet, we really do need to just get over ourselves.

When Newt Gingrich proudly stands and says, "I am not a citizen of the world", what does he think he means?

Where was Newt's car manufactured? Where did his clothes come from? Where does his food come from? Where do his beliefs come from? Everything that makes Newt, Newt, is inextricably linked to all of the other human beings on this planet.

Each and every one of us is a citizen of this world.

We inhabit this fragile, precarious global civilization - our hopes, our dreams, and our futures are intermingled and intertwined, for better or worse, with all of the other frightened, nervous wrecks who call this planet Home.

What we do affects everyone - what everyone else does affects us.

Americans tend to be a lot like the famous character Alfred E. Newman who starred for so many years in the magazine Mad.

"What, me worry?"

I give President Bush credit for good things that he did - AIDS funding in Africa being a prime example.

But there are too many members of his party that just don't give a damn about what happens in other countries.

We have heard for the last eight years (ever since 9/11) how much of a threat Iran could be. Bush listed Iran as one of the three "Axis of Evil" nations along with Iraq and North Korea.

We have heard about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad since he became President of Iran four years ago. We have heard about his threats against Israel and his denial of the Holocaust. We have heard about his advocacy of programs to develop nuclear technology.

Recently, we heard about the upcoming elections in Iran, where Mousavi challenged Ahmadinejad. Then we heard the reports that Ahmadinejad had "won" re-election.

But what have we heard since?

American news coverage of the resultant protests in Iran has been curiously silent.

All we hear about is what may threaten us - but when the Iranian people stand up for themselves, we don't hear about it.

And why haven't we heard about it?

Could it be because too many Americans are not "citizens of the world" and that news networks believed that Americans wouldn't be interested in the story?

A definitive answer may not be forthcoming - but this is at least one example of how detached many Americans are from the events which transpire in other countries.

People call Americans arrogant. Maybe the shoe fits?

We could do better by asking the shoe thrower.

Strict Interpretation?

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances"

The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed"

Is it curious that some argue that strict constructionism be applied in the interpretation of the First Amendment, but not for the Second Amendment? And is it not also curious that some argue that strict constructionism be applied to the interpretation of the Second Amendment, but not for the First Amendment?

The NRA would likely contend that the 2nd Amendment extends thoroughly to individual rights. Many gun control advocates reply that the Amendment is really meant just for the more limited sense of a "well regulated Militia".

Many conservatives have argued that the 1st Amendment is more limited - Congress is only prohibited from establishing any one kind of religion, not prevented from establishing religious influence in general. Yet many others would reply that the 1st Amendment is really meant to protect all other kinds of individual rights in a broader sense of application.

So, those who argue that the 2nd Amendment should be applied broadly to individual rights, but not the 1st Amendment, why so? Also, those who argue that the 1st Amendment should be applied broadly to individual rights, but not the 2nd Amendment, why so?

I am not declaring or asserting that it is impossible to make such a justification - I just find it rather curious to seize onto a strict constructionism in one instance and seemingly abandon the same stance in another comparable instance.

Above all, please show your work. Thank you!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

What Do We Want From Politicians?

I hope that this entry does not read as a rant, and that impression is not intended -- but if that is the impression that is perceived, please consider that I have given fair warning from the beginning.

What does American society demand from the individuals who aspire to hold the most powerful executive office in the country, the Presidency of the United States?

Many attributes are sought in a capable executive - as a leader of America's bureaucracy, as the commander of the military, and as the foremost of our diplomats, enormous levels of skill, experience, and ingenuity are required.

However, many Americans seem to care mainly about things which I charitably define as "extraneous".

No, I don't want a President I would feel comfortable having a beer with.

We admire Lincoln because of his sober decision-making. In fact, he was a teetotaler.

Not that there's anything wrong with drinking -- but there's nothing wrong with refrain or sober responsibility, either.

I find it absurd and insulting that candidates like Hillary Clinton felt that they had to drink shots with "the people" in places like Crown Point, Indiana so they could be perceived as a "regular gal" or a "regular guy".

There are rituals which candidates must undergo perpetually -- certain constituencies, more powerful than others, must be appeased. These shamans of popular faith control the bedrock values of our society...

But I'm not talking about Rick Warren. I'm talking about Ellen DeGeneres, I'm talking about Oprah, and I'm talking about Larry King.

If we focused more on the candidates' qualifications and less on their dancing skills, I think this would be a better country for all of us, propelled by a more informed and cautious citizenry.

Now, I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with Ellen, or Oprah, or Larry King, or even Rick Warren, that is inherently bad.

I just believe that politics is not the ideal territory of popular culture - or maybe I just resent the dancing.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Empathy for Conservatives/Our Shifting Moral Values

I have been thinking about the differences between how liberals and conservatives tend to perceive the world recently.

I have made a realization which has given me increased empathy for conservatives.

What will society be like in 100 years? 50 years? 20 years? What difficult and thorny ethical questions will arise due to new technology unveiled within the next few decades or centuries?

New advances in technology can be scary stuff, raising difficult ethical questions. I thought about how I would feel in a future afraid I would be if I thought that the moral paradigm and the traditions of my society were eroding and deteriorating before my eyes.

And that is when a powerful observation struck me: this fear of erosion and deterioration may just be exactly how many conservatives feel today.

I now understand why people would be afraid of changes in society which could possibly be unnerving and apprehension-inducing.

The struggle that we all share is navigating a course between tradition and modernity. This, I believe, is the great moral struggle of every generation of humanity.

We have struggled to define our moral values in each civilization, in each society, and in each generation of human history. We witness this phenomena in the movement to end slavery, the 20th century civil rights movement, the gay rights movement, the controversy over abortion, the controversy over the death penalty (and which forms of execution are cruel or unusual and who should be executed or not), the struggle over gun control, the struggle over communism, the struggle over fascism, and the clash of other religious and political ideologies.

What is morality? What defines when an act is moral? Who defines it? Conservatives and liberals are largely answering the same questions -- they just tend to seek the answers in differing places.

We have a changing moral paradigm. Some people would deny this, but I contend that I have presented enough evidence to confirm this phenomenon's occurrence.

Conservatives and liberals tend to argue over which course to follow on the continually revising moral paradigms of human history. Conservatives seem to be largely guided by "tradition"; liberals seem to be largely guided by "modernity". Neither of these concepts is particularly well-defined; both seem quite nebulous. Neither concept seems to be a clear or resolute guide for future action; neither concept is fully coherent. Both ideas seem equally capable of badly misleading our decision-making. I do believe that over-adherence to either idea will produce disaster.

What is tradition? Yes, we learn from our mistakes, and we have derived ideas and beliefs to help us avoid them. I admire conservatism for trying to preserve our heritage of knowledge and experience and hedging against futile attempts to subvert our best practices. However, since our environment is continually shifting and evolving, there are many occasions where we find ourselves in need of new and inventive approaches for a changing world. I admire liberalism because I believe this way of thinking provides the capability to arrive at such bold solutions.

I must admit, conservatism is awfully appealing to me at times. I like the notion of sticking with tested and broken-in ideas over radical departures from known strategies. I am an incremental thinker; I have never been good at "out-of-the-box" thinking. When I make decisions, I try to build upon the best information that I have. Before I will try a new approach, I tend to re-try older approaches first to see if they work better. I tend to avoid risk in my personal life.

So why am I more liberal than conservative? I don't know for sure. Perhaps it is a function of when I grew into politics. I believe in change. I believe that we have adhered too much to tradition, and that we need new ways of thinking. The way we treat the environment, the way we treat minorities and the poor, the way we treat foreigners, the way we treat homosexuals -- the traditional approaches are not good enough for me. I want to go in another direction.

I have empathy for conservatives, but it has been apparent to me for many years that our country needs to travel in another direction. There are many policies which the Democrats espouse about which I am either ambivalent or with which I disagree. I do not know whether Obama's economic policies are sound. I am, as I have been for most of my life, largely ambivalent about the abortion debate, embracing neither the strong pro-choice nor the strong pro-life position. I wish that the Democrats would move faster and more radically on healthcare and gay rights.

The battles of the future will define and guide our moral values, just as they have in the past. I eagerly await further full and vigorous participation in the debates to come.